Bicycle-sharing companies are rapidly seeing a drop-off in customer interest.
At least three bike-sharing businesses have recently stopped operating in the United Kingdom. The companies themselves, some of them from China, are starting to cease operations in their home countries as well.
oBike was a Singaporean bicycle-sharing company that kicked off their operations in 2017 in several countries. Unfortunately, in 2018, the parent company of oBike filed for insolvency.
Another bicycle-sharing company that saw a substantive reduction in operations in 2018 was the Beijing-based company, Ofo.
oBike has subsequently pulled out of Singapore (and other countries), leaving much of their bicycle stock behind.
But the engineering technology left behind from unsustainable businesses can be efficiently utilized by someone else.
That’s where budding Myanmar-born entrepreneur Mike Than Tun Win comes in. He had an idea about what the bicycles could be used for once the bicycle-sharing businesses were closed down.
“What if these bicycles could be distributed to poor students in villages so they can cycle to school?” he said.
“I thought if we could just reduce the time they take, they could spend more time studying, gain more knowledge and increase their chances of getting out of poverty.”
He began a movement called LessWalk in March of 2019. He figured that if Ofo and oBike auctioned their bicycles off after ceasing operation, he could purchase them at a fraction of the cost.
He travelled to China and saw incredibly sized ‘graveyards’ of bicycles from the bicycle-sharing companies — some had never even been used before.
“Seeing the graveyards in China was really the tipping point for me,” he said.
“I was stunned when I saw so many bicycles, 30,000 to 50,000 of them just piled up. It’s astonishing because some bicycles were in good condition, their brake pads were brand new, and some were hardly used.
“To think that these bicycles would be dismantled and sold for around [$8 to $10] to the recycling companies, I just thought it was quite wasteful as the bicycle originally costs so much more to make.”
To date, he has bought 10,000 bicycles. He also made a deal with the Ministry of Education in Myanmar who will help distribute the bicycles to the villagers for free. Soon, more sponsors jumped on board to assist with buying more bicycles for Mike to refurbish and modify.
Mike intends to fit an extra seat onto the bicycles, so one bike rider could transport a passenger too. He says that it would greatly help children and their siblings from the villages.
LessWalk is showing what could be possible if the world adopted a circular economy. If more engineering companies could subscribe to some of its principles, there could be more life-changing technology for all. The theory sets out an economic system aimed at minimizing waste and making the most of resources.
Thanks to Mike Than Tun Win, what was destined for the trash heap became an opportunity to re-utilize technology and give it a second life. As LessWalk puts it, a first world problem has become a third-world opportunity. The result has been a wonderful act of charity that is going a long way and improving the lives of the people in Myanmar.
“Entrepreneur Buys Unused OBike and Ofo Bicycles to Donate to Poor Children in Myanmar.” TODAYonline, 4 June 2019, www.todayonline.com/singapore/entrepreneur-buys-unused-obike-and-ofo-bicycles-donate-poor-children-myanmar.
“Turning Bike Sharing Problem into Opportunity.” Lesswalk, www.lesswalk.org/.